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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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5. Biographies

 
1. Royal Biographies
2. Biographies of Other Dignitaries

(subheadings only)

 
a. Erlingr skakki Kyrpinga-Ormsson

Sagas: Hsona, Hákherð, MErl (Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork), Sv, Orkn.

Erlingr skakki ‘the Tilting’ was the father of Magnús Erlingsson and the regent of Norway during his son’s minority. He was the son of Kyrpinga-Ormr ‘Decrepit-Ormr’ Sveinsson, the foster-father of Magnús Haraldsson gilla. His wife was Kristín, the daughter of Sigurðr jórsalafari (see Genealogies II.3 and XII in ÍF 28). Erlingr died at the battle of Kalvskinnet against Sverrir Sigurðarson (19 June 1179). See Mork (Mork 1928-32, 440-1; Andersson and Gade 2000, 389-90), Fsk (ÍF 29, 341-64; Finlay 2004, 275-95), Hkr (ÍF 28, 323-417; Hollander 1991, 751-821), H-Hr (Fms 7, 231-326), Sv (ÍF 1920, 6-67), Orkn (ÍF 34, 193-237; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1987, 155-82). See also Knýtl (ÍF 35, 308; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1986, 170-1).

Events documented in poetry: Erlingr’s journey to the Mediterranean and Palestine c. 1151-3 (Rv Lv 24-6, 30; Þskakk Erldr 1); the battle of the Götaälv in 1159 (ESk Elfv); the battle of Tønsberg in 1161 (Þskakk Erldr 2; Anon (MErl) 1); Erlingr’s execution of rebels in Viken in 1164 (Þskakk Erldr 3).

 
b. Grégóríus Dagsson

Sagas: Hsona, Hákherð (Ágr, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork).

Grégóríus Dagsson was a Norwegian district chieftain and a retainer of King Ingi Haraldsson. He was the son of Dagr Eilífsson and Ragnhildr, the daughter of Ǫgmundr Skoptason (see Genealogy XI in ÍF 28). In 1155 Grégóríus led the attack that caused the death of Ingi’s half-brother, Sigurðr munnr, in Bergen and he later joined Ingi in his fights against Sigurðr’s son, Hákon herðibreiðr. Grégóríus was killed by Hákon’s men at the battle of Fossum, near Uddevalla in present-day Sweden (on 7 January 1161), and he was buried at Gjerpen nunnery on Gimsøy, near Skien in Norway. For his life, see the references under Ingi Haraldsson above. See also Ágr (ÍF 29, 52-4; Ágr 1995, 78-81), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 448-53; Andersson and Gade 2000, 394-8).

Events documented in poetry: The slaying of Sigurðr munnr in 1155 (ESk Ingdr 2-4); the battle of the Götaälv in 1159 (ESk Elf).

 
c. Jón Loptsson

Sagas: MbHg, MErl (Hkr), Stu, Oddaverja þáttr.

Jón Loptsson, from the farmstead Oddi in southern Iceland, was born c. 1124. He was the son of Loptr Sæmundsson and Þóra, the daughter of King Magnús berfœttr Óláfsson of Norway, and the grandson of Sæmundr fróði ‘the Learned’ Sigfússon (see Genealogy II.1 in Stu 1878, II, 487). Jón was fostered in Norway by Andréas Brúnsson and his wife, Solveig, and he returned to Iceland with his father c. 1135. He was educated at Oddi, most likely by his father and his uncle, Eyjólfr (d. 1158). At the age of forty, Jón travelled to Norway and must have been present at the coronation of Magnús Erlingsson in 1164. Jón was the foster-father of Snorri Sturluson and the most powerful chieftain in Iceland during the latter part of his life. He was renowned for his fairness and for his ability to arbitrate in court cases. Jón died on 1 November 1197. The poem Anon Nkt was composed in his honour. See Hkr (ÍF 28, 288-9, 395; Hollander 1991, 724-5, 805), Stu (1878, I, 67, 75-6, 145, 156-7, 196, II, 284, 312), Oddaverja þáttr and Halldór Hermannsson 1932b.

 
d. Rǫgnvaldr Brúsason

Sagas: Orkn, ÓH, MH, HSig (Ágr, Flat, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork, Theodoricus).

Rǫgnvaldr Brúsason (c. 1010/11-1046), jarl of Orkney, was the son of Jarl Brúsi Sigurðarson (d. 1034) and the nephew of Jarl Þorfinnr Sigurðarson (d. c. 1064; see Genealogies I in ÍF 34 and VI in ÍF 28). At the age of ten he accompanied his father to Norway, and he remained at the court of Óláfr Haraldsson (S. Óláfr) as a hostage when Brúsi returned to Orkney. In 1029 Rǫgnvaldr went into exile in Sweden with Óláfr, and he returned with him to Norway and fought at the battle of Stiklestad (29 July 1030). After that battle, he brought the wounded, fifteen-year-old Haraldr harðráði Sigurðarson into safety and later accompanied him to Russia, where they were put in charge of the defensive forces of Jaroslav of Novgorod. When Haraldr went to Byzantium, Rǫgnvaldr remained in Russia, where he was said to have fought ten major battles. In 1035 he returned to Norway with Óláfr’s young son, Magnús, and then to Orkney as co-ruler with his uncle Þorfinnr. Rǫgnvaldr participated in some of Þorfinnr’s military campaigns, but their joint rule turned sour and culminated in the battle between the two jarls at Rauðabjǫrg (probably Roberry) in 1044 and Rǫgnvaldr’s exile to Norway. Shortly after his return to Orkney (1045/6), he was killed by Þorfinnr’s men. Rǫgnvaldr is buried on Papa Westray. See Theodoricus (MHN 35-6, 45; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 26, 33), Ágr (ÍF 29, 30, 32; Ágr 1995, 42-3, 46-7), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 18-19, 31-2, 57, 137; Andersson and Gade 2000, 98-9, 109-10, 130, 179), Fsk (ÍF 29, 197, 200-1, 215, 227, 248; Finlay 2004, 157, 160, 173, 182, 198), ÓHHkr (ÍF 27, 167-72, 327; Hollander 1991, 357-61, 474), HSigHkr (ÍF 28, 68-9; Hollander 1991, 577-8), H-Hr (Fms 6, 45-7, 129, 131), Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 261-2, 270-1, 288); Orkn (ÍF 34, 35, 41, 53-74; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1987, 44, 49, 56-71).

Events documented in poetry: Rǫgnvaldr’s early campaigns in Russia (Arn Rǫgndr 1); the battle of Roberry (Rauðabjǫrg) against his uncle Jarl Þorfinnr Sigurðarson (Arn Þorfdr 19-22, Arn Lv and BjHall Kálffl 8I).

 
e. Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson

Jarl Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson of Orkney is not commemorated in praise poetry, and his biography is therefore not included here. For his life and poetic works, see his skald Biography.

 
f. Skúli Bárðarson

Sagas: Bǫgl, Hák.

Skúli was the half-brother of King Ingi Bárðarson (r. 1204-17), the son of Bárðr Guthormsson and King Sverrir Sigurðarson’s half-sister Cécilía. Skúli’s mother was Ragnfríðr Erlingsdóttir. Skúli was appointed jarl by Ingi in 1217, and he was the effective regent of Norway during the minority of King Hákon Hákonarson (r. 1217-63) who became his son-in-law in 1225. In 1237 Hákon gave Skúli the title of duke (hertogi). Skúli proclaimed himself king of Norway in 1239, and he was executed by Hákon’s men in Trondheim on 24 May 1240. See Bǫgl (1988, II, 27, 35, 62-3, 97-8, 124-8) and Hák.

Events documented in poetry: The battles of Værne and Oslo in 1221 (Sturl Hákkv 6; Sturl Hákfl 1-2) and Skúli punishing insubordinate farmers in Østfold (Anon (Hák) 1); skirmishes with the Ribbungar near Tønsberg in 1222 (Játg Lv); negotiations between Skúli and Hákon in 1233 (Ólhv Hryn 2-3; Anon (Hák) 2); the desertion of Skúli’s followers in 1236 (Ólhv Hryn 4; Anon (Hák) 3); the exchange of hostages between him and Hákon in 1236 (Ólhv Hryn 5); Skúli’s usurpation of the Norwegian crown in 1239 (Ólhv Hryn 6-7; Sturl Hákkv 9); Hákon’s men capturing Skúli’s district chieftains in 1239 (Snæk Lv); the battles of Låke and Oslo and Skúli’s death in 1240 (Ólvh Hryn 8-12; Ólhv Lv 2; Sturl Hákkv 10-24). See also SnSt HtIII and Lv 5III.

 
g. Úlfr stallari Óspaksson (Úlfr)

Sagas: HSig, MH (Ágr, Fsk, Flat, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork).

Úlfr stallari ‘Marshal’ Óspaksson (Úlfr) was the grandson of the Icelander Ósvífr inn spaki ‘the Wise’ (see ÍF 1, 123, 182-5; Genealogy IV in ÍF 5; ÍF 28, 120; Hollander 1991, 608). He came from a prominent family of poets, among them Einarr skálaglamm (EskálI), Stúfr inn blindi (Stúfr) and Steinn Herdísarson (Steinn), and he was the great-grandfather of Archbishop Eysteinn Erlendsson of Nidaros (1161-88). Úlfr served with Haraldr harðráði Sigurðarson in Byzantium, and later Haraldr appointed him his marshal (stallari). He died in the spring of 1066 before Haraldr embarked on his expedition to England. See Ágr (ÍF 29, 36; Ágr 1995, 52-3), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 55-6, 74, 80-2, 170-1, 207-9, 265; Andersson and Gade 2000, 129, 142, 145-6, 204, 227-8, 263), Fsk (ÍF 29, 235, 262, 264-6, 276; Finlay 2004, 189, 209, 211-12, 220), Hkr (ÍF 28, 79, 86, 119-20, 147, 175; Hollander 1991, 583, 588, 608, 626, 645), H-Hr (Fms 6, 164-6, 266, 313-15, 401), Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 287-8, 301, 304-5, 344, 361-2, 388).

Events documented in poetry: Úlfr’s participation in the battle of the Nissan in 1062 (Steinn Úlffl); his comment on the strength of the English army before Haraldr embarked on his campaign in 1066 (Úlfr Lv).

 
h. Víðkunnr Jónsson

Sagas: Mberf, Msona, Hsona (Ágr, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork, Theodoricus).

Víðkunnr was the son of Jón Árnason in Bjarkøy and Rannveig, the grand-daughter of Þórir hundr ‘Dog’ Þórisson (see Genealogy IX in ÍF 28). He was a retainer of Magnús berfœttr and Magnús’s sons, and he became the foster-father of Sigurðr jórsalafari’s son, Magnús inn blindi. In 1094 he was present at the hanging of the leaders of the revolt against Magnús berfœttr, and he accompanied Magnús on his last expedition to Ireland in 1103. Víðkunnr was wounded at the battle of Ulster (on 24 August 1103), and he is said to have killed the slayer of Magnús during that battle. Later events in his life include his dealings with Gullásu-Þórðr (GullásÞ), his involvement in the legal dispute between Eysteinn Magnússon and Sigurðr jórsalafari, and his housing of Magnús inn blindi during the winter of 1138-9. See Theodoricus (MHN 63; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 50), Ágr (ÍF 29, 46-7; Ágr 1995, 68-71), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 299-305, 332-7, 357, 359-82, 425; Andersson and Gade 2000, 286-91, 309-13, 329-45, 379), Fsk (ÍF 29, 305, 312-15, 333; Finlay 2004, 243-4, 250-2, 268), Hkr (ÍF 28, 215-17, 233-7, 258, 311; Hollander 1991, 671-4, 683-7, 701, 741), H-Hr (Fms 7, 4-14, 48, 66-73, 111-18, 126-50, 215). See also Orkn (ÍF 34, 95, 346; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1987, 83).

Events documented in poetry: The burning of his father’s farmstead in Bjarkøy in 1094 (Anon (Mberf) 2); his prowess as a warrior (GullásÞ Víðdr). See also GullásÞ Lv. For poetry concerning the revolt against Magnús berfœttr in 1094 and Magnús’s campaign in the west in 1103, see the Biography of Magnús above.

 
i. Waltheof (Valþjófr) of Huntingdon and Northumbria

Sagas: HSig, MH (Flat, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork).

Waltheof, earl of Huntingdon and Northumbria, was the son of Earl Siward of Northumbria (d. 1055). After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Waltheof was among the Anglo-Saxon noblemen who swore allegiance to William the Conqueror, but in 1069 he joined the northern uprising against him. He subsequently submitted to William (1070) but participated in the Revolt of the Earls in 1075. After that revolt failed, he repented and again submitted to William. Waltheof was executed (beheaded) in Winchester on 31 May 1076 and his body was interred in Crowland, where rumours later arose about his sanctity. The ON sources erroneously make him a brother of Harold Godwineson and also state that he participated in the battle of Fulford (20 September 1066). See Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 390); Fsk (ÍF 29, 278-9, 293-5; Finlay 2004, 222-3, 234-5), H-Hr (Fms 6, 393, 406-9, 424-7), Hkr (ÍF 28, 168, 179-81, 194-6; Hollander 1991, 641, 649-50, 658-9), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 267-8; Andersson and Gade 2000, 265). See also Saga hins heilaga Eðvarðar (Flat 1860-8, III, 469), Hem (Hb 1892-6, 338-41, 345-7), Knýtl (ÍF 35, 111; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1986, 34), Orkn (ÍF 34, 86; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1987, 77). For a detailed overview of his life, see Scott 1952.

Events documented in poetry: Waltheof’s participation in the battle of Fulford (Anon Harst); he and his men burning more than a hundred Norman warriors in a forest (ÞSkall Valfl 1); his execution in 1076 (ÞSkall Valfl 2).

 
j. Þorfinnr Sigurðarson

Sagas: Orkn, ÓH, MH, Mgóð (Flat, H-Hr, Hkr, Mork).

Þorfinnr was the son of Jarl Sigurðr Hlǫðvisson of Orkney (d. 1014; see Genealogies I in ÍF 34 and VI in ÍF 28) and an unnamed daughter of Malcolm of Scotland. He was married to Ingibjǫrg, the daughter of the Norwegian Finnr Árnason (see Genealogy VIII in ÍF 28). Þorfinnr was fostered by his maternal grandfather, from whom he received the earldom of Caithness in 1014. After the death of his half-brother, Sumarliði (before 1018), he ruled Orkney with his two half-brothers, Einarr rangmunnr ‘Wry-mouth’ (d. 1020) and Brúsi (d. 1034), but their reign was marred by internal discord. When Brúsi died in 1034, Þorfinnr reigned jointly with his nephew, Rǫgnvaldr Brúsason (c. 1036-45/46), until Rǫgnvaldr was killed by Þorfinnr and his men in 1046. Þorfinnr was the most powerful jarl of Orkney, and he died c. 1064/65. See Orkn (ÍF 34, 27-83; Hermann Pálsson and Edwards 1987, 38-76, ÓHHkr (ÍF 27, 160-74, 448-9; Hollander 1991, 351-62), Mork (Mork 1928-32, 31-2; Andersson and Gade 2000, 109-10), Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 270-1), H-Hr (Fms 6, 45-7).

Events documented in poetry: Þorfinnr’s hospitality (Arn Þorfdr 2-3); his first battle (before the age of fifteen; Arn Þorfdr 5); his battles against Karl Hundason at Deerness, south of Sandwick (Arn Þorfdr 6-8); his attack on Karl’s Irish divisions at Tarbatness (Arn Þorfdr 9-10); his punishment of the Scots for their insubordination (Arn Þorfdr 11); the battle of Loch Vatten (Vatnsfjǫrðr) and his raiding expeditions eight years later (Arn Þorfdr 13-14); an attack on England (Arn Þorfdr 16-18); the battle of Roberry (Rauðabjǫrg) against Rǫgnvaldr Brúsason in 1044 (Arn Þorfdr 19-22; Arn Lv; BjHall Kálffl 8I).

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